Spending

3 tricks to help you save money on last-minute Halloween shopping

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Twenty/20

Americans are planning to spend slightly less money on Halloween this year than last year — but higher prices for pumpkins and candy could thwart those plans.

Shoppers say they'll spend an average of $86.27 each this year on Halloween expenses like costumes, candy, and decorations, according to the National Retail Federation's annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics. However, pumpkin prices are slightly higher this year than last, and one major candy-maker has announced plans to raise prices on Halloween candy.

Budget-friendly costume ideas are one big way to slash spending. Here are some other ways to save on your jack-o'-lantern and trick-or-treat candy needs, even at the last minute:

Shop for pumpkins by the pound

If your pumpkin venue charges a flat rate, try to find the biggest pumpkin to get the best value.

The average price of a Howden pumpkin — the traditional variety people use for jack-o'-lanterns — is slightly higher this year compared with 2018, according to weekly figures compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The average price of a whole pumpkin has ranged from $3.42 to $5.47 in the five weeks through October 11, the data shows. Last year, the range in that comparable period was $3.32 to $4.39.

"The biggest and prettiest pumpkins always seem to be gone after around the middle of October," says Robert Foster, president and co-owner of Cedar Hill Farm in Hernando, Mississippi. While prices "are about the same as last year," it's been a bad weather year for pumpkins, with too much rain in some areas, followed by a drought. "So there is a bit of a shortage it seems."

The biggest and prettiest pumpkins always seem to be gone after around the middle of October.
Robert Foster
Co-owner of Cedar Hill Farm in Hernando, Mississippi

You could shop at locations that price by the pound instead. Per-pound prices are actually lower than last year, ranging from 29 cents to 53 cents a pound — down from 43 cents to 82 cents a pound last year, the USDA figures show.

You could also make a more radical decision and forget pumpkins altogether in favor of something new.

Swap out a jack-o'-lantern for a trendy gourd

According to the National Retail Federation, 44% of Americans plan to carve a pumpkin this year — down slightly from the past two years. Meanwhile, people have been Googling "gourd" this year at rates not seen in the past five years, according to Google Trends data.

At Cedar Hill Farm, a large, dried gourd costs $3. Similarly, three different varieties of gourds popular for carving sell for $3 each at Susan Watson Gourds in Chiefland, Florida. Gourds left over from last year's crop are available for $2 each.

In Norwalk, Connecticut, Allan Givens, a public relations manager at the price comparison website Finder.com, says he's seen more decorative gourds than pumpkins on display this season.

"It looks like people are going an alternative route," says Givens. "We are seeing a general decline in interest overall for pumpkins, which is pretty interesting, especially when you take into account the growing popularity of pumpkin-flavored foods."

Even if you skip the carved pumpkin, expect more pumpkin-flavored foods on menus beyond the pumpkin spice latte. Last year, Forbes valued the entire pumpkin-spice industry to be worth an estimated $608 million.

Stack deals to save on trick-or-treat candy

An estimated 69% of Americans plan to hand out candy on Halloween, spending an average of $25.37, according to the National Retail Federation. But prices could be higher this year. Back in July, Michele Buck, the chief executive officer of Hershey, said on a conference call that the company would charge more for Halloween candy, according to a FactSet transcript of the call.

You can still score a variety of packs containing 300-plus pieces for less than $20, according to research conducted by CNBC Make It. In a survey of major retailers in the New York City metro area, the team found that Walgreens offered the cheapest Halloween candy prices. As for Hershey's candy, a 90-count Halloween Assortment Laydown bag (Reese's, Twizzlers, KitKat, Jolly Rancher Stix) was $5.29 at Walgreens.

To save on candy, Givens recommends doing some research to see what stores in your area are offering the best deals, and looking for coupons to combine with store sales. "Be sure to set a budget before venturing to the shops to ensure you're conscious of overspending," he says.

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